Georges Charpak

Banquet speech

Georges Charpak’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1992

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The honour bestowed upon me by the Nobel Foundation appeared to me not to belong to the real world.

I should have found, at my side, everyone from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. But an incident, a few days ago, enlightened me concerning the surprising decision of the Jury: the official photographer informed me that I was the 137th Nobel Laureate of whom he has had to make a portrait. Certainly all of you know that 137 is a magic, quasi-mystical number in physics. It is equal to the velocity of light times the reduced Planck constant divided by the square of the electron charge! This number governs the size of all objects in the Universe. Some people claim that if this value were to be slightly different life would not be possible.

This information led me, through channels which I cannot reveal publicly, to the origin of the decision of the Jury: they have been inspired by the goddess Freja, the wife of Odin, a spiritual cousin of the goddess Venus, who has decided to choose me to deliver a message.

My very modest contribution to physics has been in the art of weaving in space thin wires detecting the whisper of nearby flying charged particles produced in high-energy nuclear collisions. It is easy for computers to transform these whispers into a symphony understandable to physicists.

But the whispers can also be produced by radiations widely used in biology or in medicine, such as electrons from radioactive elements or X-rays. In this last case it is possible to reduce, by a large factor, the doses of radiations inflicted on the patients. Despite its use still on a very small scale, the first results with wire chambers point clearly to the direction to be taken. The techniques being developed for matching the needs in radiation detectors of the future high-energy colliders foreseen at CERN or in the USA will clearly bring the ideal solution for the imaging of radiations: each quantum will be detected, one by one, with an accuracy of a few microns.

The message from the world of the goddesses Freja and Venus is clear: invest without hesitation in the future high-energy accelerators. You will have as a reward the best solution for the radiography of such fragile objects as women’s breasts.

As a fallout, you will learn everything you want to know about the Higgs field, the hidden matter of the Universe, and marvellous new particles which are haunting the dreams of physicists and will become familiar notions to you. But please, do not consider that I am behaving like some lobbyist in Washington. The message comes from the world of Freja and Venus and I have been chosen as the passive medium.

From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1992, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1993

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1992

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